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Press freedom continues to diminish, says new report

UPDATE: Police chief apologises to journalists for police excesses (HRNJ-Uganda, 31 May 2012)

(HRNJ-Uganda/IFEX) - Kampala, 18 April 2012 - Attacks on journalists have escalated in the past six months despite the government's commitment to adhere to its international human rights obligations, with 32 cases of attacks since the review by the UN Human Rights Council, says HRNJ-Uganda's new report.

Despite the government's voluntary commitment to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators of attacks, there has been no particular action taken, resulting in an increment in attacks. Print media journalists were most targeted, with 13 attacks, followed by radio journalists, with 11, and 8 from television.

The Freedom of Expression and Information (FOE-I) Country Status Report in relation to the Universal Peer Review Mechanism (UPRM) released by Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda on 18 April 2012 in Kampala shows that more than half of the attacks were committed by the police.

The attacks ranged from shooting, physical attack, unlawful arrest and detention/incarceration of journalists, denying access to news scenes, confiscation of equipment, defective and trumped up charges, to verbal threats. The report, the first of its kind in Uganda, is a culmination of a series of literature studies, interviews and consultations undertaken with a view of establishing current FOE-I trends.

This represents a worrying trend of events against the media in Uganda, where the year 2011 witnessed a total of 107 cases of attacks on journalists, compared to 58 in 2010 and 38 in 2009. This is contrary to the six recommendations on media freedoms that the government accepted to uphold and protect.

The UPR was established at the creation of the Human Rights Council on 15 March 2006 by the UN General Assembly under resolution 60/251. This resolution mandated the HRC to "undertake a universal periodic review, based on objective and reliable information, of the fulfillment by each State of its human rights obligations and commitments in a manner which ensures universality of coverage and equal treatment with respect to all States."

It's a very important mechanism because it provides an opportunity for all States to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to overcome challenges to the enjoyment of human rights. It also includes a sharing of best human rights practices around the globe. Currently, it's the most outstanding mechanism in the area of Human Rights. We believe that it has the potential to provide a meaningful response to various complaints. The UPR is considered as the only unique process that reviews all the UN member states evenly, so we wouldn't expect Uganda to accuse other member states of being biased. This stands to be the single most important conception in the new UN human rights machinery from which Ugandans are likely to benefit a lot.

(. . .)

Since the country's review, little or nothing has changed to review the laws and bring them into compliance with international standards. Both penal and administrative laws (or laws meant to control media) are still in operation. These have hindered media freedoms. Several journalists have been charged and continue to answer charges under these laws, while other media houses remain in self-censorship for fear of being closed down using the same laws.

RECOMMENDATIONS

- Government should enforce its commitment to protection of journalists and media freedoms;
- Individual law enforcement officers including policemen should be held liable for their acts of violence against journalists;
- Government should stop enacting laws that are in contravention with provisions of the Constitution and International Instruments.

We hope that the Uganda government walks the talk of implementing its commitment it voluntarily undertook in line with its international obligations.

Read the report


MORE INFORMATION:

HRNJ-Uganda report: Impact of liberalisation and commercialisation of the media in Uganda (4 May 2012)

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